This item has been corrected.
For too long American women have been stuck earning eighty cents for every dollar a man earns. While the gap has narrowed since the 1960s as more women got college degrees and high-paying jobs, little progress has been made lately. At the current rate of change, women won’t get pay equality until 2152.
Better policies could change that. Laws that should guarantee pay equality haven’t been updated in over 50 years. Here is a look at what the current US presidential candidates could do to address the gap.
“Anything that is a family friendly policy—parental leave, sick leave—helps,” said Lisa Maatz, who leads government relationships and advocacy at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Lack of parental leave penalizes women, as does the lack of affordable child care options, and of paid sick leave.
Without parental leave, mothers take off more time from work than do fathers when a baby is born—first, obviously, to deliver the baby, but then to tend to a baby’s early needs, particularly if breastfeeding. While many companies do offer leave for fathers, it’s often for a shorter period of time. This means mothers are more likely to take time off, putting them further behind in advancing their careers.
Lack of child care options puts women further behind. If the family can’t afford private child care, it often makes more economic sense for the woman to stay home—which in turn affects her prospective earnings. For similar reasons, women are more likely to take sick leave to take care of family emergency. This reinforces the stereotype that women put their career behind their family, which in turn makes employers give them less opportunity, exacerbating the pay gap, in a phenomenon that Maaz calls the “motherhood penalty.”
Both candidates have proposals for parental leave. Donald Trump proposes giving mothers paid leave for six weeks after birth. This proposal, though progressive in the Republican context, falls short. “Trump’s child care proposal only covers birth mothers, which is the primary problem,” says Maatz, ignoring the needs of fathers, as well as gay families, or adoptive parents. Limiting parental leave to mothers is counterproductive when it comes to pay equality, arguably worse even than no parental leave policy at all: “It exacerbates the bias and stereotype that mothers take care of the kids.”
Clinton’s proposal offering 12 weeks of leave for both parents, regardless of their gender and biological relation to the child, does a better job at achieving equality, by allowing both parents to take care of their children.
When it comes to child care, both Clinton and Trump acknowledge the burden it presents on American families. Trump proposes to compensate families through a tax cut (pdf). Clinton’s proposal is likely to have a more direct impact on families of all income levels: It caps the expense for child care at 10% of the household income, with the government paying the difference.
About 60% of Americans, Maatz said, work in companies whose policies mandate or strongly encourage that salary details be kept confidential. Women who aren’t earning as much as their male counterparts and have no way to know, and therefore take action against it, are penalized—as is anyone who is discriminated against in workplace compensation. To remedy this, Clinton as senator in 2009 sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that updates the provisions of the Equal Pay Act and forbids employers from retaliating against workers who share their salary information. It also empowers workers to sue employers who are discriminating in wages. Trump hasn’t any proposals relating to sharing salary information.
While it is commonplace, the practice to base a potential hires’ salary offer on salary history is highly discriminating, because it carries discrimination from one position to the next. Women enter the workplace with lower salaries, and are penalized for it through their career, as they are for every negotiation mistake. A law passed on Aug. 1 in Massachusetts forbids employers from asking about previous salary in the job interview, and it could be a good model to follow at the federal level, Maatz said.
Further, she says, requiring to share a salary range for an advertised position would help reduce pay disparity, as well improve salary negotiations.
So far, neither candidate has shared specific proposals geared towards transparency, although Clinton has applauded the Massachusetts law.
Correction: American women earn eighty cents, not eight, to the dollar compared to men.